Three years ago today, on the sun-splashed field of Fenway Park, Derek Jeter brought 36,879 people to their feet as he closed out his Hall-of-Fame career. There was nothing but love in enemy territory, and it was surreal.
Walking into Fenway that afternoon, I couldn’t believe I was seeing Jeter on a baseball field for the final time. As I looked around, I noticed Yankee fans everywhere; even Red Sox fans were decked out in Jeter gear. The Red Sox clubhouse store was stocked with Jeter merchandise.
I had been at the last home game only a few days earlier to say thank you to the Captain. This time it was goodbye. 20 years had boiled down to a couple of hours.
Jeter is all I’ve ever known with the Yankees. I grew up with him, and he in a way, grew up with me. There are few things in life you can count on, but for 20 years you could count on Jeter taking his place at shortstop. We just thought he would last forever.
Jeter lined out to shortstop in his first at-bat. All I wanted was for him to go out on a hit. He stepped in the box in the third inning against Clay Buchholz, worked the count a bit, and then chopped a ball to third. In typical Jeter-fashion, he ran hard out of the box and was rewarded with a single. He slowed down just past first base, and he looked old doing it. He stopped, turned around, and walked slowly back towards first. He patted first base coach Mick Kelleher on the head, jogged over to Buchholz and then walked off the field and into the dugout, waving to the fans and hugging his teammates.
The Yankees went on to win 9-5, and finished the season with a record of 84-78, the lowest win total of Jeter’s career. It didn’t matter that day. An era was ending, and it ended the same way it began – with style and class.
When the old Stadium closed, Jeter said that “the great thing about memories is you’re able to pass it along from generation to generation.” The image of Jeter running through first base, head down, coming to a stop and then turning around with a smile on his face is something I’ll never forget. It’s something I’ll be able to tell my children and grandchildren about.
It’s hard to imagine it’s been three years since Jeter put on a uniform. It feels like yesterday, and I’m perfectly fine with that.